The rising sun cast a gentle glow upon the ethereal grayness of the eastern sky. As the light hit her face, Halcyone's eyes fluttered and with a start, she woke. The silence of the night began to break as songbirds chirped gaily in the branches above Halcyone's head. Cursing under her breath, she sat up, brushing the stray bits of grass away from her dark green tunic and out of her long, russet colored hair. She rubbed her eyes and shook her head, clearing away the last remnants of sleep. She stretched and massaged her shoulders where the rock ledge encircling the top of knoll had kneaded her back.
A branch crackled behind her and grabbing the iron dagger which hung from her waist, Halcyone whirled around, a wild look in her dark green eyes.
"Relax! It's only me. Besides, what are you planning on doing with that dagger anyway?" The musical voice of a woman broke the silence. A tall, willowy figure came into view and Halcyone's tense body relaxed, dropping the dagger. Halcyone glared at her cousin Clete, who grinned teasingly. Despite being the only daughter of the warrior queen, Halcyone was well-known for her lack of fighting abilities.
"Don't worry. I won't tell," Clete said, a faint smile playing across her lips. Halcyone nodded her gratitude and quickly collected her dagger and pouch before heading down the steep stone steps towards the forest. A golden palomino mare stood waiting, loosely tied to an overhanging branch of a nearby birch tree.
"That's the second time I've fallen asleep while on watch," Halcyone explained to the mare, which patiently waited while Halcyone deftly undid the slipknot. Swinging her right leg over the back of the horse, Halcyone quickly mounted and with a gentle nudge to golden side of the mare set off into the forest. The mare plodded along slowly and Halcyone did nothing to encourage her, instead using the time to sit peacefully and listen to the forest around her. The harsh barking sound of an imperial eagle sounded above, muffled slightly by the heavy foliage. Flashes of red were visible among the dark brown branches as a herd of red deer fled through the woods. Small, red and yellow colored songbirds fluttered from branch to branch above Halcyone's head. Small grey and red kestrel dived past the mare, chasing after a mouse. Halcyone smiled to herself, as the small kestrel reminded her of her mother. Lysippe, warrior queen of the Amazons, was never seen without Kairos, the lesser kestrel that she had tamed. With a small but fierce beak and sharp talons, Kairos proved useful on hunts and in battle. Lysippe herself was small and wiry, with lightening fast reflexes and an unmatched strength that made her a formidable opponent in battle. Her ice blue eyes could be sharp capable of penetrating and disconcerting even the most level headed warrior. At the same time, they would sparkle warmly with laughter and devotion towards her family and loyal followers.
There was very little resemblance between Lysippe and Halcyone. Tall and lean, Halcyone towered over her mother. Her green eyes held a warm sparkle that made everyone around her feel comfortable. Her voice was gentle and musical and lent itself beautifully to the singing chants of many of the rituals. While her mother was bold and decisive, Halcyone was more of a dreamer and an artist, given to bursts of song in time of joy and a deep sulking depression when miserable. She found it hard to follow in her mother's footsteps as a warrior, though she was not completely inept when dealing with weapons. A master marksman, Halcyone was skilled with the longbow and could ride a horse swifter than any of the other young women. Still young, she had not participated in any battles yet and was not looking forward to the opportunity. She valued human life as a universal rule and did not cherish the idea of killing someone.
Lost in thought, Halcyone blinked rapidly as she once again entered into full sunlight. The early morning light shimmered upon the village. Despite the early morning, many women were already beginning their daily chores and a group of young girls trudged after their teacher, who was explaining the importance of the Artemis statue placed in the center of the village in a low monotone voice. Halcyone smiled to herself as she thought back to when she endured those lessons. She had to admit to herself, that she did not endure very many. On more than one occasion, together with Clete, she would sneak away and spy on the Artemis Council, lead by the Tatum Warrior Queen and the High 12 who consisted of priestesses and esteemed warriors. Other times they would sneak into the barracks of the male slaves and play games with the young boys. In Themiskyra, men were kept separate from the women, residing in their own small village that was separated from the rest of the village by a high stone wall and thick gnarled trees. Within the village, they were employed only for labor and the creation of new villagers. Men were an integrated part of society, but by no means dominated any part of life.
Halcyone passed through the village with a few nods from the women who were traveling about the village. The dusty road grew rocky and uneven and began to ascend as she rode to the stable at the base of the fortress and dismounted, leading the mare to a large, muscled man who was waiting at the doorway.
"Thanks, Proteus," Halcyone murmured. The great man nodded his head and obediently led the mare away. On her way out of the stable, Halcyone stopped to pet the small, black cat that had roused itself from its nap when she had entered. She leaned down and picked the cat up, who began to purr, a deep throaty sound like distant thunder. Halcyone smiled and kissed the top of the cat's velvet ears before gently setting him down again. She continued out of the stable and stood on the edge of the road, looking out over the village and contemplating whether to continue into the fortress where the two queens and their family and attendants lived. Instead, she walked past the stable and pushed her way through the thick rhododendron and heather. Sharply descending, she came to rest upon a small platform cut into the side of the mountain. Several hazelnut trees grew precipitously on the edge of the cliff. Panting slightly, Halcyone leaned against the tree and looked out on the village. Although it was not the highest point of the village, the viewpoint was still incredible. People below moved about like mice, scurrying from one place to another. Behind the line of houses, young women were riding and practicing archery. Others were engaged in mock fighting, while still others were engaged in practical matters such as washing and repairing clothes. Surrounding the town was a never-ending expanse of forest, with the Black Sea glimmering faintly in the distance.
A weak kye-kye distracted Halcyone from her observations. She heard the cry again and the flap of wings above her head. Looking up, she smiled at Kairos, who began to preen her feathers. Halcyone turned around and smiled at her mother, who was following not far behind. Lysippe came to her daughter's side and looked out over the village. She breathed a quiet, almost imperceptible sigh of sorrow and pride. Halcyone heard the sigh and looked at her mother inquiringly.
"How was the watch?" Lysippe asked. Halcyone shrugged her shoulders.
"Uneventful, as usual," Her mother nodded in response. Halcyone began to feel something was seriously wrong. Her mother turned and sat down cross-legged beside her and adjusted her tunic so that it protected her arms against the winds. Halcyone followed suit and looked at her mother, waiting for an explanation. Lysippe felt her daughter's searching eyes upon her and sighed again. She muffled a cough before finally speaking.
"It is my fate to leave this world soon," she began. Halcyone shook her head in disbelief. Lysippe continued, "The Gods will not have me stay longer. I've grown ill. I have tried to protect you from the truth, but it is inevitable. You must be ready to take my place as queen."
"But…." Halcyone began. Her mother held up a hand to stop her. Her blue eyes glittered with unshed tears.